Jefferies Group LLC (NYSE: JEF) shifted their “hold” rating on tech giant Apple Inc. (NASDAQ: AAPL) today, recommending that investors take a bite out of the company by placing a solid “buy” on shares. Jefferies’ analyst Peter Misek recently visited the company’s Asian Suppliers and noted an appreciable difference in attitude towards Apple, with the suppliers becoming far more lenient in pricing. Misek now sees shares reaching $600 as opposed to his previous guestimate of $425. This new price target implies a 24 percent upside to the stock’s Friday closing price of $483.03. The analyst noted that the shift in supplier pricing should allow Apple to garner better gross profit margins, boosting the company’s prospects until the launch of the iPhone 6.
Additionally, Jefferies hiked earnings estimates for Apple. For the fourth quarter, JEF increased EPS estimates from $8.14 to $8.36. For fiscal 2013, EPS estimates were raised from $39.66 to $39.87. For fiscal 2014, EPS estimates were raised from $37.95 to $44.22.
Jefferies was not the only firm to demote Apple. In September, other analysts showed skepticism of the company’s progress. Investment banks such as UBS AG (NYSE: UBS) and Bank of America Corp (NYSE: BAC) downgraded Apple from “buy” to “neutral” ratings after the company released price and product information on the iPhone 5s. Citigroup Inc. (NYSE: C) analyst Glen Yeung believes that the market for smartphones in developed countries is saturated and slowly grinding down. He cites that Apple faces solid headwinds in emerging markets, where discounted smartphone makers are garnering critical market share.
Misek has a pretty dicey history when it comes to forecasting on Apple. The analyst came under fire earlier this year when he cited channel checks that indicated that Apple was planning a product event in March related to the company’s Apple TV set-top box. He was quickly shot down when no such event was held. Misek also claimed in March of last year that Apple was getting ready to start production of a television set in preparation for a product launch in late 2012. That prophecy proved erroneous. Misek has now lifted himself out of the general consensus pool by throwing his analyst weight behind Apple, when most others are still sketchy on the company’s financial prospects. Time will tell if he has a hit with his latest prediction on the company’s short-term fortunes.
Shares in Apple gapped sharply higher in relatively light volume today on news of the upgrade. Shares have traded in the range of $485.35 to $492.47 and are sitting at $491.39 as of the time of this writing.
Disclosure: The author has no position in the stocks mentioned in this article, and does not intend to initiate any position in the next 48 hours.